Friday, August 28, 2015

Carlos Rodon makes fourth straight quality start

I've heard comments from a lot of White Sox fans who feel the team "rushed" rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon to the big leagues. Some believe the Sox screwed up by starting Rodon's "service clock" this year during a non-contending season.


Rodon wouldn't be learning a thing if he were in Charlotte overmatching Triple-A hitters. The best thing for his development is to be challenged by facing major league hitters. And, frankly, Rodon has had a respectable -- if not good -- rookie campaign.

Consider this: Rodon has made 19 starts this year, and the Sox are 12-7 in those games. That's not too shabby when you consider the Sox are 60-66 overall. There have been times where Rodon has been awful, such as this outing on July 31 vs. the Yankees, but more often than not, he's held up well and given the Sox a chance to win on the day he pitches.

In addition, he's trending the right way. Rodon has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last four starts. He's gone 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA during that stretch. His command has been spotty at times. He's walked 11 over his last 28 innings, but he's also struck out 29 during that same span.

But here's the thing that's most encouraging to me about Rodon's recent work: He performed well even when he was facing a team that was seeing him for a second time in quick succession.

On Aug. 11, Rodon turned in the best start of his young career against the Los Angeles Angels. He fired seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits while striking out 11 in a 3-0 victory.

Six days later, he faced that same Angels lineup. A lot of times with rookies, you wonder if they'll trip up "the second time through the league." Whatever adjustments Los Angeles made, they didn't work that well. Rodon's second start against the Angels was the longest of his career, eight innings of two-run ball. Once again, he allowed just four hits. The Sox lost, 2-1, but it wasn't because Rodon didn't hold up his end of the deal.

Next, Rodon faced the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 22. He went seven innings, allowing just one earned run and six hits with eight strikeouts. He got a no-decision in a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings.

Five days later, on Thursday, Rodon found himself looking at the same Seattle lineup. Would the Mariners make adjustments and get to him the second time around?


Rodon earned the victory in the Sox's 4-2 win, allowing just two runs on three hits over six-plus innings.

Even veteran pitchers will tell you it can be hard to face the same lineup twice in quick succession. Rodon has been in that situation twice this month and handled himself quite well. That goes to show he's far enough along in his development that the Sox's decision to bring him to the majors when they did was the right one, service clock be damned.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chris Sale closing in on White Sox franchise record for strikeouts

With the White Sox languishing at 59-66 in late August, it can be hard to manufacture much enthusiasm for the remaining 37 games of the season.

That said, Chris Sale's starts should remain appointment TV for Sox fans. Sale got the shaft from his teammates (again) Wednesday night, receiving a no-decision after firing seven shutout innings in Chicago's 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Sale struck out seven Boston hitters Wednesday to increase his season total to a personal-best 229. (He struck out 226 during the 2013 season.) Why does that matter, you ask? Well, Sale is closing in a club record that has stood for more than a century.

Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh holds the Sox record for strikeouts in a single season. He fanned 269 hitters in 1908; that's 107 years ago. Sale's 229 strikeouts this year stand as a modern-era record, and he needs just 41 more to set a new all-time franchise mark.

We'll assume the Sox will not push Sale too hard in September with the team out of the race, but it's reasonable to believe the ace left-hander will start about six of the remaining 37 games. Sale is averaging just more than nine strikeouts per start this season, so if he continues that pace for six more starts, he would end up with about 283 strikeouts. Walsh's record would fall.

As Sox fans, we have no hope of any team glory this year, so use the rest of this season to appreciate the individual greatness of Sale. This is a team record that nobody has come close to touching in our lifetimes. It's possible, maybe even likely, that it will be broken sometime in the next six weeks.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trayce Thompson: The right-handed platoon bat the Sox have been looking for?

It's no secret the White Sox are not a good hitting team, but their offensive woes are particularly acute against left-handed pitching. Here are the Sox's team hitting splits:

White Sox vs. RHP: .255/.310/.394
White Sox vs. LHP: .240/.292/.344

The team batting average and on-base percentages take a dip against left-handers, and there's a significant drop-off in slugging percentage. The Sox could use a hitter or two who hit lefties well, and right now the hope is rookie outfielder Trayce Thompson becomes one of those guys.

Thompson went 3 for 4 and finished a home run short of the cycle Tuesday against Boston lefty Wade Miley, leading the Sox to a 5-4 win over the Red Sox. Thompson's two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning provided the winning margin.

With that performance, Thompson is hitting .522/.560/.957 in 11 games (6 starts) since he was called up. We know, of course, he will never keep up that pace, but his performance thus far against left-handed pitching is worth noting: He's 10 for 17 with two home runs and five RBIs.

It shouldn't be hard for Thompson to keep his roster spot and serve in a platoon role if he can produce above-average numbers against lefty starters.

The Sox lineup is full of guys who struggle against lefties:

Adam LaRoche vs. LHP: .163/.198/.325

Carlos Sanchez vs. LHP: .179/.225/.269

Adam Eaton vs. LHP: .227/.271/.295

Melky Cabrera vs. LHP: .230/.258/.333

Jose Abreu vs. LHP: .240/.307/.375

Even Abreu, the Sox's best hitter, is a mere mortal when he sees a left-handed pitcher. Thompson is a nice luxury for manager Robin Ventura to have, because now he can sit LaRoche on days when the opposition throws a left-handed starter. Thompson can handle any of the three spots in the outfield defensively, so Ventura has his pick of DH'ing Cabrera, Eaton or Avisail Garcia on the days Thompson plays.

We don't know yet how "real" this early hot surge from Thompson is, but it sure is refreshing to see the Sox farm system send a potentially useful position player to the major leagues.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chris Sale makes All-Star team, bests Mark Buehrle in quick-moving game

For White Sox fans, there was little drama in the announcement of the American League All-Star team. We all knew the South Siders were only going to get one representative, and we all knew it would be the very deserving Chris Sale.

Sale's record may be a good-but-not-great 7-4, but it's solid when you consider he pitches for the 37-43 White Sox. He leads the league in strikeouts with 147, and he recently became just the second pitcher in MLB history to strike out 10 or more men in eight consecutive starts. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is the other.

For Sale, it is his fourth All-Star selection. In case you were wondering, the record for All-Star appearances by a White Sox pitcher is held by Billy Pierce, who represented the South Siders in the Midsummer Classic seven times.

Coincidentally, Sale's mound opponent on Monday night, Mark Buehrle, also represented the Sox in the All-Star game four times.

Hours after his selection, Sale bested Buehrle in one of the better games played at U.S. Cellular Field this season. Both left-handers tossed complete games as the Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2.

Sale had "only" six strikeouts, ending his streak of double-digit strikeout games. The Toronto hitters did a lot of hacking early in counts in this game, which kept Sale's strikeout total down, but perhaps contributed to him being able to go the distance on 108 pitches.

But despite Sale's effort, he was trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Home runs by Chris Colabello and Josh Donaldson had staked Buehrle and the Blue Jays to a one-run lead.

However, the Sox capitalized on some shoddy Toronto defense in the bottom of the eighth inning. Gordon Beckham reached base after Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes let a routine grounder go right between his legs. Two outs later, Adam Eaton singled, putting runners on the corners with two outs for Jose Abreu. The Sox first baseman didn't hit Buehrle's first-pitch changeup hard, but it found the grass in center field. Beckham scored to tie the game, 2-2.

That brought up Melky Cabrera, a longtime Buehrle nemesis. The Sox left fielder smashed a two-run double down the left-field line to score Eaton and Abreu and make the score 4-2. Cabrera is now 19 for 34 lifetime against Buehrle.

Sale gave up a pair of singles in the top of the ninth, but he got out of trouble by inducing Danny Valencia to ground into a game-ending double play.

The game lasted just 1 hour, 54 minutes. No bullpens needed; no walks issued by either pitcher. What fan wouldn't enjoy that kind of baseball?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If the White Sox insist on keeping John Danks in the rotation, they need to give him a shorter leash

White Sox pitcher John Danks is overpaid. Everybody knows that. But this blog entry is not going to be about money. Today we are talking about Danks' poor performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The veteran left-hander had another implosion against an AL Central opponent Monday night. He gave up nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, including three home runs, over 5.1 innings in an embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on national TV. Danks getting rocked by a divisional foe is nothing new. We've chronicled those struggles here in the past.

I've heard some folks argue Danks is a "serviceable" fifth starter. Heck, I think I might have made that statement a couple times in the past. But as time goes on and I gather more information, I've come around to the opinion that this guy doesn't belong in the rotation anymore. His 5.38 ERA ranks 50th out of 53 qualifying American League pitchers. That's not serviceable. It's terrible. It's the kind of performance you can't live with if you want to think of yourself as a competitive team.

It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have other options. For instance, we can complain until we're blue in the face about the not-so-dynamic Sox catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. But the reality is those two guys are the best the team has in its organization at that position right now. You can't do anything else but trot them out there until the front office addresses the issue.

But it's not that way with the fifth starter spot. White Sox farmhand Erik Johnson is pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte. He was just named International League Pitcher of the Week. He has not given up a run in any of his last three outings, striking out 28 batters and walking just four in 22 innings over that span.

Given what we know about Danks and his struggles against the AL Central, and just his struggles in general, wouldn't it be a better play to drop Johnson into the rotation for a week and see how he does? At the very least, he could give teams such as Minnesota and Detroit a different look. The Tigers and the Twins are not fooled by the offspeed pitches of Danks. They've faced him countless times, and they are probably fighting to get to the bat rack, knowing a night against Danks is a chance to pad their personal statistics. Minnesota did a good job of getting fat on Monday night, that's for sure.

If the Sox are going to insist on leaving Danks in the rotation, at the very least they need to give him a shorter leash. Minnesota hung a five-spot on him in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, turning a 2-1 Sox lead into a 6-2 deficit. No, it wasn't all Danks' fault. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a crucial error behind him that opened the door for the big inning, but the Twins scored three runs after two were out, as well. Danks had opportunities to make pitches, pick his teammate up and minimize the damage. He failed to do that.

He should have been removed after that fourth inning. A four-run deficit is not good, but it's not insurmountable. The Sox's long and middle relievers were all fresh and available to use. Manager Robin Ventura should have gone to one of them. You hope a fresh relief pitcher can keep Minnesota at six runs, and then maybe your offense can come back.

Instead, Ventura trotted the ineffective Danks out there for both the fifth and sixth innings, apparently wanting him to "eat innings." Predictable results followed -- a three-run homer by Kennys Vargas in the sixth made it 9-2. Then, the game was over.

The whole thing was disturbing and disheartening. By sending Danks back out after he had been roughed up, it felt like Ventura was conceding the game. And he can't afford to concede games to division foes right now. The Sox are 30-39, 11 games out and in last place. There has to be an urgency to win right now. You can't allow a struggling pitcher such as Danks to go out there and torpedo everything for 24 other guys. There's no rule that says Danks has to stay in for 90 to 100 pitches no matter what. When he's bad, pull him and give the team a chance to come back and win. This isn't rocket science.

On Monday night, it seemed as though Ventura was managing for tomorrow when he needed to win today. The Sox skipper is running out of tomorrows, maybe a lot faster than he realizes.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gordon Beckham stinks as a starting player, but plays well off the bench

White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday for a solo home run, lifting the South Siders to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers in the rubber match of a three-game series.

Beckham entered the game in the 10th inning for defensive purposes and started a 5-2-3 double play in the top of the 11th inning that got the Sox out of a bases-loaded jam. The home run was his fourth of the season, and three of the four have come in games where Beckham has come off the bench.

There is little doubt Beckham is a more useful player in a reserve role. He can provide decent-to-excellent defense at third base, second base or shortstop, and it's clear his bat is better when he enters late in the game. His overall .220 batting average is not impressive, but check out his splits this season:

Beckham as a starter: .198/.263/.264, 1 home run
Beckham off the bench: .333/.375/.810, 3 home runs

Obviously, Sunday's home run won the game for the Sox. Beckham also came off the bench May 29 to hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings. An eighth-inning home run on April 12 took a 4-2 Sox lead to a more comfortable 6-2 margin in an eventual victory.

With third baseman Conor Gillaspie's inconsistent performance both with the bat and the glove, Sox manager Robin Ventura has given in to the temptation of starting Beckham more often in June. It hasn't worked. Beckham has started 13 of the Sox's 19 June games, and he has hit .143 with just one extra-base hit and one RBI in those games. He gets exposed as a weak hitter playing every day. In a bench role, he can be spotted in matchups more favorable for him, and that's where he's been able to contribute to the team this year.

The Sox are having struggles at second base, as well, where Carlos Sanchez has made all the plays defensively, but has floundered to a .155 batting average. It would be easy for Ventura to be tempted to try Beckham at second base. He shouldn't give in to that one, either. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he's 22 years old and learning at the big-league level. He can still get better, and a little patience might pay dividends.

Beckham, however, is not a kid anymore. He turns 29 this year, and this is his seventh year in the big leagues. He is who he is at this point, and he's a utility player. He can do that role and do it well, so the Sox would be well-advised to leave him there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

'The Wreck of the White Sox' by Tom Braxton

With the Blackhawks wrapping up their third Stanley Cup in six years, I haven't had much time to watch or write about the bad White Sox baseball we've been seeing the last few days.

The team is on a five-game losing streak and hasn't scored a run (or had an extra-base hit) since the second inning Sunday. Rather than analyze the nonsense of the past few ballgames, we will instead commemorate the latest losing streak with a poem from my friend, Tom Braxton.

To the tune of  "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot ....

The legend lives on from old Bridgeport on down
To the mills on the sands of The Region.
The game, it is said, often ends with the dread
Of an autumn spent fretting and reachin’.
With a bench of new guys whose talents comprise
So much more than the Sox had last season,
But that team of new hope slid down a hard slope
That the Central Division was greasin’.

The team was the pride of the weary South Side,
Coming back from too long in the cellar.
As big-leaguers go they looked better than most
With a team looking good if not stellar.
Concluding some deals, Rick Hahn, he now feels
That champions are what he’s collected.
And without many wins when we’re ten weeks in,
Could it be the rebuild we’ve expected?

The whiffs and duffs made an ominous sound
Of a team coming loose from its moorings.
And every fan knew, as Hahn must know too,
‘Twas the curse of Navarro returning.
May became June and the team was in swoon
When the streaks began piling up losses.
As the weather grew hot fewer tickets got bought
To the chagrin of Rick Hahn and his bosses.

Does anyone know where the love of fans goes
When the team blows through millions of dollars?
Writers say that worst case they’d have made second place
If they’d only replaced Tyler Flowers.
They might have bad eyes or they might have the yips;
They may have bought their own bravura.
And all that remains are the aches and the pains
And the blinking of Robin Ventura.

In a musty old bar on South Halsted they sang,
In voices exchanging their theories.
The beer bottles clanked and together they drank
To each man from the ’05 World Series.
The legend lives on from old Bridgeport on down
To the mills on the sands of The Region.
The game, it is said, often ends with the dread
Of an autumn spent fretting and reachin’.